What is black and white? That is an odd question. It is a very loaded term that draws on a rich history that runs parallel with our own history and the history of the camera. It is not a technological question, nor is it asking about content. It is a process.
When photography was invented it was all we had at our disposal. From a world we see in colour so much of our history has been imprinted with the 'past' and we associate this 'past' with the black and white photograph. Imagine seeing historically important figures in colour. In fact, Robert Capa shot colour from 1941 till his death in 1954 with quite incredible results.
The representation of black and white is a complete illusion from the truth as you can see from the photograph above. We lose incredibly important details that help us define the subject and their surroundings. Before colour film there was the argument that black and white was the truthful source, but how could that be when the sky is blue, trees are green and mountains are a combination of darker colours. This is not really anything to do with colour photography and more to do with the idea that we had nothing else to use before its invention. The technology did not allow for colour representations until a certain point. When we then had the technology to facilitate colour photographs it was not widely accepted and received by the serious photographers. Or at least the work wasn't published until now. These archives are something to be discovered now we have hindsight on our side. This to me is interesting.
In the present day we have all options covered, black and white, colour, digital, film, satellite imagery and a range of formats we can pick and choose from. This is the difference. We have voted with our feet and we chose colour photographs. Black and white then became a technique we applied to a scene. We applied the technique to a landscape instead of looking at a scene and only ever thinking a black and white scene was possible.
Black and white is much more than a technique, or a filter to apply to an originally colour photograph. It is a thorough and rooted process and should be used when it is suitable. One of the best photographers I know uses black and white and uses it for the right reasons and at the right time. It is a completely organic experience for him that runs to the core of his ideas. He does not set out to do a 'black and white project'. For me, and speaking as a colour photographer here, it is a process that should be done properly from day one from its first ignition as an idea.
We now have the technology to pick and choose what mode of communication we would like to use to reflect the scenario we wish to portray. And, to my mind anything that we wish to do, should be carried out as organically as we can. If you shoot it colour, it should be kept colour if using colour film. If you are looking to make black and white pictures then use the correct process. This argument is dependent on context and does not take Instagraminto account. It is not in the same area of photography. When regarding proper work the process of black and white should be adhered to, not to comply with rules, but to make us actually feel something we look at the photographs. Such wording can make it seem I am an adhere to rules, and in fact I am quite the opposite, but when projects fail to find an organic route then the magic seems to go. It feels like a project, when it should be an experience.
It is interesting to see how this argument fits in with very current happenings online, the B&W photo a day. It is curious to me that it would become a challenge to make a black and white photograph a day, when some photographers only ever shoot black and white. The idea is baffling to me.
Following a conversation with my good friend, he stated, "I do this shit everyday". It makes me wonder the position we are in where it becomes a novelty to be a black and white photographer when we have every option available to us now.